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Bernard Libster

Issa, a master of the ancient art of bonsai (miniaturizing trees), lives in a Japanese village with his wife Kyomi, a master of many arts. When they are entrusted with an orphaned bear cub, their happy life is shattered because Issa attempts to turn the animal into a bonsai. In his mind, this would bring him recognition as the greatest bonsai master of all time. Keeping the bear small would also permit them to keep him as a pet forever. Issa actually succeeds in accomplishing his aim.

The bear stops growing and Issa even manages to disguise the bear as a cat. Kyomi learns of Issa’s mischief and opposes it but Issa is unyielding. Kyomi is sad.

The bear blames himself for the great unhappiness and attempts to help his humans by clowning. Issa names him Doukeshi, meaning jester, and for a time the little bear is content. But Kyomi deliberately reminds Doukeshi of his true nature in her sad songs.

Then the God of Bears visits Doukeshi in his sleep and tells him he will one day be a mighty bear.

Issa slowly comes to understand that he has done a great wrong, but it is only after he dreams that the God of Bears has turned him into a bonsai man that he undoes his work. Doukeshi begins growing again and becomes a full sized bear who must return to the forest.

Issa and Kyomi part with him sadly because they love him but they are happy because Doukeshi will have the life he was meant to have.

Ages 4-8 and Parents


Meet Bernie Libster

Born into a Russian-Jewish immigrant family in a village 50 miles north of New York City, Bernie Libster grew up speaking three languages—Russian, English and Yiddish—until starting school. He could read from earliest childhood but read very few books until his senior year in high school, when he began reading the works of Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky (in English—he’d lost Russian years before.).

Bernie intended to study medicine, largely to please his father. However, at the age of 20 while at an English university for his junior year abroad, he abruptly “dropped out” and fled to Paris to pursue his newborn dream of writing poetry.

At a friend’s suggestions he tried his hand at fiction and failed miserably. Eventually he moved to New York City, where he resumed writing briefly and found work in book publishing.

For years he wrote book jackets for Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Bobbsey Twins and other children’s books but very little else until 1988. Then, following the death of a close friend, he began writing haiku for reasons that are unclear to him except that he found Zen Buddhism attractive and loved the poems of haiku masters Issa and Basho.

The Bonsai Bear was begun one evening on the bus home from work, completed that same evening, and reworked for the next seven years.

After leaving his full-time job in 1993, Bernie spent more and more time writing. He completed a novel for teenagers, loosely based on his experiences as the child of aging immigrant parents, entitled My Old Man, for which he is still seeking a publisher. He also began and continues to work on a novel about a crippled Japanese boy who becomes a samurai , and occasionally publishes haiku.

Bernie’s favorite children’s author is the 20th century Italian Gianni Rodari, some of whose works he has translated (he has told several Rodari stories before several enthusastic audiences, who are rejoicing in a “new” voice) and he loves fairy tales in general and stories about cats and other animals in particular. His favorite “adult” authors include Primo Levi, Jorge Luis Borges and the poets William Blake and Dylan Thomas and his favorite storyteller is Jay O’Callahan. He hopes some day to find another story like The Bonsai Bear and in the meantime works as a freelance advertising copywriter and writes short stories and long memoir pieces with quasi-mystical themes.

Bernie includes among his interests bicycling, nature, the music of Bach, Schubert and Bill Evans, the theatre, backcountry skiing, Chi Kung, organic gardening and oral storytelling, at which he is an enthusiastic novice.

The great passions of his life are centered around Italy and include improving his Italian, St. Francis of Assisi and his wife, Marian Calabro, a third generation Italian-American and author of four non-fiction books for children, including a new book on the Donner Party that is receiving much critical attention.